Native Art Beyond “Ponies in a Sunset”

An interview with artist Luzene Hill.

Micco Caporale August 25, 2017

Cherokee artist Luzene Hill. (Portland Art Museum)

When artist Luzene Hill, a mem­ber of the East­ern Band of Chero­kee Indi­ans, met Chero­kee Nation artist Bren­da Mal­lo­ry in 2015, she knew she had found her cre­ative twin. Both explore Chero­kee his­to­ry through the lens of women’s expe­ri­ences, and they even share col­or palettes and mate­ri­als (includ­ing beeswax). Two years lat­er, the bond between Hill and Mal­lo­ry has found expres­sion in a co-exhib­it, Con­nect­ing Lines. In These Times sat down with Hill to dis­cuss the show.

We’re contemporary people.

What do you hope vis­i­tors will take away?

That we’re here. We’re con­tem­po­rary peo­ple. We do work that doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly include icon­ic images like Indi­ans on ponies in a sun­set. And I hope peo­ple will learn more about our his­to­ry, so lit­tle of which is taught in schools.

Such as?

The show has been trans­lat­ed into the Chero­kee syl­labary. Not many peo­ple know about the syl­labary or that Sequoy­ah invent­ed it. That’s rare in the his­to­ry of the world: for one per­son to invent a writ­ten language.

How does your work empha­size Native women’s experiences?

Native women are almost three times more like­ly to be sex­u­al­ly assault­ed than oth­er women in the Unit­ed States, and 90 per­cent of the assaults are by non-Native men. It seems metaphor­i­cal for the vio­la­tion of the Amer­i­c­as. But if you just say a num­ber — like 6,956 [report­ed rapes of Native women each year] or 720 [unre­port­ed rapes in the U.S. each day] — then it’s a sta­tis­tic. So I cre­ate vol­ume with mate­r­i­al of some kind to show this is what 720 dried rose petals look like, or 6,956 god­dess fig­ures — this is not just a number.

How does Brenda’s work dif­fer from yours? 

My ances­tors stayed and hid out in the moun­tains here in the South­east. Much of Brenda’s think­ing and work reflects hav­ing grown up in Okla­homa as part of the Chero­kee peo­ple who had been dis­placed. She always felt fragmented.

Con­nect­ing Lines, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Native Art, Port­land Art Muse­um, through Octo­ber 29

Mic­co Capo­rale is an edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times.
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